Both are Christian conservatives, and they were once stalwart allies, but Dick Armey and James Dobson are going after each other tooth and claw.
Armey, the former Texas congressman and House majority leader, argued in the Outlook section of this past Sunday's Washington Post that Republicans face an "electoral rout" because they stopped being the party of limited government, allowed spending to spin "out of control," and concentrated on such issues as flag burning, Terry Schiavo and same-sex marriage.
On the Web site of FreedomWorks, the organization he now heads, Armey pins much of the blame on Dobson, the founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, and other "self-appointed Christian leaders."
Calling them "thugs" and "bullies" in recent interviews, Armey says that "Dobson and his gang" have split the conservative Christian movement into two camps: those who want to "practice their faith independent of heavy-handed government" and "big government sympathizers who want to impose their version of 'righteousness' on others."
Dobson, in a commentary for the Web site of Fox News, responded this week that Armey is "a very bitter man" who is still smarting because "I supported my close friend and hunting buddy," Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.), over Armey for majority leader. Dobson denied that he supports big government and cited news media reports that Armey has been consulting for the American Civil Liberties Union.
This split is a lot less fresh than WaPo makes it seem. Armey writes on his website, "As Majority Leader, I remember vividly a meeting with the House leadership where Dobson scolded us for having failed to 'deliver' for Christian conservatives, that we owed our majority to him, and that he had the power to take our jobs back. This offended me, and I told him so." And, "...Focus on the Family deliberately perpetuates the lie that I am a consultant to the ACLU. I have never had any relationship with the ACLU and oppose most of that organization’s work."
So pretty much allies of convenience, if at all. As a cultural conservative and a fiscal conservative, Dobson and Armey are people with different priorities, so it's not surprising that these guys have butted heads and are butting heads now. What worries me (and what I've seen on some comments on lefty blogs) is that people may start looking at Armey as anything other than a Dick himself.
Mother Jones (In an article titled The Masters of Mean):
Hail and farewell to two of the meanest guys ever to serve in the U.S. Congress -- Senator Phil Gramm and House Majority Leader Dick Armey, both from Texas. What a barrel of knee-slapping fun they have been. As each winds up his final year in office, we could have a fine time recalling their Meanest Moments: The side-splitting occasion when Armey referred to Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts as "Barney Fag." The rib-tickling time Gramm wanted to deny food stamps to elderly legal immigrants on the splendid grounds that extending aid would only foster dependency, thereby incicting "a new personal tragedy on the most vulnerable among us."
Armey and Gramm represent the last of a certain style of antigovernment politician. Their favorite joke is that the 10 most-dreaded words in the English language are "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you." They built their political careers by opposing everything the government does to help people, constantly disparaging and attacking the institutional form of the people's power. Corporate welfare is fine with Gramm, just not anything to help people; Armey, the true-believer ideologue, was at least more consistent, rejecting almost all forms of government spending.
In other words, the retirements of Armey and Gramm were among the best things that have happened to the nation in my lifetime. It was the reign of Armey/Gramm that drove George W. Bush to cook up the catch phrase, "compassionate conservatism." Of course, Bush didn't actually mean he'd be more compassionate, he just needed to distance himself from these two clowns. Armey would play compassionate conservative from time to time, but it was always an act and it always served his slash and burn budget priorities. MoJo, again:
For years, Armey told the story of Charlie, a janitor at North Texas State when Armey taught there. According to Armey, Charlie was a retarded man who loved his job; then in 1977, the federal government raised the minimum wage, and Charlie was fired because the university couldn't afford to keep him on anymore. A month later, Armey saw Charlie in a grocery store with his wife and infant child, buying provisions with food stamps. "My heart's been broken about it ever since," Armey often lamented.
Unfortunately, no one else who worked at the university at the time had any memory of Charlie. What's more, the chancellor explained, janitors at North Texas are state employees, so the federal minimum wage would not have applied to any "Charlie."
I guess that makes Armey a big, fat liar, doesn't it? The only way Armey could make his draconian economics palatable was to lie about the consequences. Other heartwarming stories from MoJo; "...He is so devoted to free-market ideals that he wants to abolish Social Security and the home mortgage deduction, along with the minimum wage, and replace the progressive income tax with a flat tax. He once wrote an academic paper claiming that housewives are overpaid. As these things go in Washington, he was fairly consistent about opposing federal spending, although he did support some pork-laden horrors. His single major contribution to the nation's weal was to join Ron Dellums, the progressive congressman from California, in sponsoring a plan that succeeded in taking the political pain out of deciding which military bases to close. Armey's plan to return American farmers to the free market went less well: Today, fewer family farmers get subsidies, thanks to Armey, and more big corporate farmers get bigger ones."
So, just because Armey has the right enemies, don't think he's a hero. I'd imagine that Dick's enemies list is much longer than his friends list. That Dobson hates him would only be shooting par.
It's fun to watch the split in the party, yes. But you're watching Darth Vader fight Lexx Luthor -- there's no one worth rooting for in this fight.
Technorati tags: politics; religious right; Republican; elections; in the fight between James Dobson and Dick Armey, it's a good idea not to be a cheerleader